How Iran establishes influence in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor (3)

RAQQA, Syria (North Press) – As soon as Iran expanded its presence in Syria in general and particularly in its east, it started to change the culture of the region to become more Persian, starting with favoring tribes that are connected to the Ahl al-Bayt, or the descendants of Prophet Muhammad and glorifying figures like al-Hussein (Prophet’s grandson) and Fatima (Prophet’s daughter).

Iran entered eastern Syria in 2017 under the pretext of backing the Syrian government forces in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) to extend its presence and promote its ideology in the region.

Iranian-backed militias deliberately targeted women for recruiting them into their armed militias and provided them with support through cultural centers. They established dedicated cultural centers in Abu Kamal and al-Mayadin, where they offered various activities to assist women, including nursing and tailoring training. They assign school teachers through the cultural center.

In the town of al-Mayadin, east of Deir ez-Zor, the Baqir Brigade, affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), began recruiting women in an attempt to establish a women’s battalion called the al-Zahra Battalion. The battalion’s female commander (anonymous) used women in Baath party organizations in Abu Kamal to do so.

According to North Press sources, these organizations opened the first headquarters for this battalion in the al-Joura neighborhood in the city of Deir ez-Zor and the second in the al-Maari region in the city of Abu Kamal. The mission of these headquarters was to gather intelligence.

Al-Mahdi scouts

This organization followed several policies in dealing with children in the eastern region of Syria, such as the change of belief. In mid-2019, the organization sent groups of children from Deir ez-Zor and its countryside to Shiite centers in Najaf and Karbala, in addition to offering courses and training in areas under their control in Abu Kamal, al-Mayadin, and Deir ez-Zor.

According to sources, the Iranian-backed militias organized recreational trips for children to Shiite shrines in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor and granted monetary rewards.

The recruitment of children was supervised by a local leader in the Baqir Brigade, called Muntasser al-Hussein, from the town of Hatlah in the east of Deir ez-Zor.

In Abu Kamal, Youssef al-Hamdan Abu Issa al-Mashhadani, commander of the Base 47 affiliated with the IRGC, supervises the recruitment of children. He recruited about 200 children who were called the scouts of Base 47. They held 10 training camps for them in 2022.

Media reports confirmed the killing of over 18 children from the ranks of Iranian-backed militias in Deir ez-Zor in 2022.

Al-Mahdi, al-Batoul, and Najmat al-Batoul scouts are the most notable teams, and their mission was to recruit children of both sexes. These teams took advantage of the people’s dire economic conditions in Deir ez-Zor by presenting financial temptations and monthly aid, as well as other benefits.

Muhammad Amin al-Reja, member of the Syria People’s Assembly (parliament) from the town of Hatlah, and Nawaf Ragheb al-Bashir, head of the al-Baggara tribe, are two of the biggest local supporters of the al-Mahdi scouts.

The team is stationed in the city center of Abu Kamal, al-Sinaa neighborhood, the city center of Deir ez-Zor, al-Ummal neighborhood, and the Electronic Engineering Faculty on Bor Saeed street.

Community culture

The Iranian-backed militias have worked for years in training the people of the tribes. They do not have powers like foreigners (non-Syrians) but are given security cards that will allow them to pass checkpoints of government forces without facing trouble.

The individuals trained for combat are sent to conduct combing operations in the Syrian Desert and areas believed to be under the control of ISIS or sent to protect oil fields to guarantee that their forces are not attacked in those areas. Usually, these militants are killed.

Sometimes, the tribal militias form human shields to protect the security headquarters, hospitals, and military bases affiliated with the IRGC, such as Imam Ali, which their Syrian militants are not allowed to enter.

The role of those militias is limited to accompanying and protecting smuggling trucks. Iran does not trust most of those militias because photos, videos, and coordinates of military locations are leaked from time to time.

Cultural centers

The Iranian cultural center in Deir ez-Zor is led by the so-called Haj Rasoul al-Irani. One of the centers is located in al-Mayadin, led by Shawqi al-Rawi, another in Abu Kamal, led by Rashed Saeed al-Faysel, who is a former commander of the IRGC, another center in the town of Hatlah and another in Mahkan.

These centers target all categories of society after conducting research. They target children by holding and involving children in religious celebrations or rewarding them in schools or scout campaigns, in addition to sending them to the city of Qom in Iran and Najaf in Iraq to teach them the Shiite beliefs.

They lure women through training courses such as tailoring, hairdressing, nursing, and teaching. As for young girls, they target them by holding the Najmat al-Batoul courses.

They also target men through holding vocational training programs offered in fields such as electrical work, plumbing, construction, computer proficiency, as well as photography and media.

The militias focus on the elite and influential figures in the communities and educated people since they can affect the locals to polish the image of Iran in Deir ez-Zor.

Reporting by Zana al-Ali